“Forming your worldview by relying on the media would be like forming your view about me by looking only at a picture of my foot.”
― Hans Rosling
When I was running for political office, the weight of the world liked to hang out on my shoulders…following the headlines and listening to the stories of tragedy and hardship that take priority in the political landscape, I wanted to fix everything for everybody. We don’t usually talk about what is working, but instead look at what is lacking and needs solving. My nature is to be optimistic, but at times, even I felt that things were as bad as they could be.
I poured over data to get my arms around it and determine solutions. Listening to both sides of the issues and the counter-arguments would create more grist for the mill. The issues circled around trying to end the misery that so many people were living. Even this past week, my mind was consumed with the fates of families being separated at our border and being outraged at what this world was coming to. How could we be moving in such a negative direction and how could we permit this in our world after all we have supposedly learned from our past?
Are we going backward as a civilization?
Are we going backward as a civilization?
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to hear a different perspective…building our world focused on well-being and authentic happiness with Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Positive Psychology, author of The Hope Circuit and former President of the American Psychological Association. Marty suggested that while most politics focus on alleviating misery, there are great scientific studies that prove humankind is flourishing like it never has before. We could transform our world if we looked at the progress that has been made and invested in policies of well-being. What are well-being and authentic happiness? It has a less to do with economics than we think, and more to do with the five elements Dr. Seligman lists in his book Flourish:
- Positive emotion (Of which happiness and life satisfaction are all aspects)
- Meaning and purpose
This is a perspective that Bill Gates shared earlier this year in Time Magazine, “ What Gives Me Hope About the World’s Future,” and recently that same theme has been showcased in Hans Rosling’s book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think and by Stephen Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Bombarded by what is portrayed in our daily lives, people are being swallowed by what appears to be happening and are not aware of what actually is happening in the world because it isn’t what we talk about. These writings all point to the fact that our politics are out of sync with a world that is better than it has ever been. Rather than focusing on what is missing, we need to look at human progress at large. We could be seeing the world from the perspective of what we have to share instead of using tactics of fear to divide and harm others. The issue of immigration is one such topic–the fear mongers want to say “you will not replace us.” The reality is, the Universe continues to expand and there is room for everyone with abundance available for everyone if only our policy-makers could change their perspective from one of lack to the reality of humanity working in concert with one another.
This is a complex issue that doesn’t rest on blaming any one organization, political party or media source. It actually goes as Dr. Rosling suggested to our survival instincts,
The human brain is a product of millions of years of evolution, and we are hard-wired with instincts that helped our ancestors to survive in small groups of hunters and gatherers. Our brains often jump to swift conclusions without much thinking, which used to help us to avoid immediate dangers. We are interested in gossip and dramatic stories, which used to be the only source of news and useful information. We crave sugar and fat, which used to be life-saving sources of energy when food was scarce. We have many instincts that used to be useful thousands of years ago, but we live in a very different world now.
Imagine if we could adjust our perspective and see through a different lens. Like cleaning out our closet of possessions that we no longer need, perhaps we need to do the same with our beliefs and give room for an enlightened sense of awareness! This upsurge in human progress, prosperity, and potential is where we could find common ground.
Now I know this is a hard thing to accept especially when we think we have the right answers. Tragedy gets our attention and having savvy slogans for solving crises wins elections. Maybe this constant messaging is why it feels things are falling apart when they actually are not. By challenging our assumptions, we may find a way that leads us back together and to policies that actually work for the betterment of all. Joseph Campbell stated, “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Perhaps if we are willing to release all that we thought we knew and instead stay open to taking another look, we might find more to be hopeful about in our world and discover authentic happiness at last!
Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Martin E. P. Seligman. Atria Books: Reprint edition, New York, NY. 2012.
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, Hans Rosling with Ana Rosling Rönnlund. Flatiron Books, New York, NY. 2018.
Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, Selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon, Harper Collins, New York, NY. 1991.